Magdalene Sisters [2002]

A movie guaranteed to make the blood boil, The Magdalene Sisters gives a lacerating account of life inside a Magdalene Laundry, one of the dismal asylums for "wayward women" run by the Catholic Church in Ireland. Director Peter Mullan, inspired by a TV documentary on the same subject, follows the miserable fates of three young women who are institutionalized in the 1960s for flimsy reasons; their lives are at the mercy of sadistic nuns (Geraldine McEwan is superb as the head of the place). The film sounds tortuous, but its rich sense of outrage and excellent performances--Nora-Jane Noone is a real discovery--make it consistently gripping. The movie won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival and went on to become a box-office hit in Ireland, where the Magdalene system was still a fresh memory. It had been abolished only in 1996. --Robert Horton

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